Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Pragmatic Vision for a Social Democratic Future in the U.S.

Lane Kenworthy, a professor of sociology and political science in Arizona, has written a long and intriguing essay about USA's social democratic future in the upcoming January 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs. For most people, and this includes academic and political observers, the Nordic model with extensive social security and high taxes are written off as somehow un-American, but Kenworthy challenges this prejudice and he does it in Foreign Affairs, claiming that America will change and that the Republican party too, will embrace an expanded welfare state. Intriguing indeed! But the essay is well argued and not an ideological riff. It lays out the way ahead and offers a new vision that could replace the impotent blur that has led the Democrats since Clinton's days in office.

America's Social Democratic Future - The Arc of Policy Is Long But Bends Toward Justice

Here is a long quote of his setup:

"As pioneered by the Nordic countries, modern social democracy means a commitment to the extensive use of government policy to promote economic security, expand opportunity, and ensure rising living standards for all. But it aims to do so while also safeguarding economic freedom, economic flexibility, and market dynamism, all of which have long been hallmarks of the U.S. economy. The Nordic countries’ experience demonstrates that a government can successfully combine economic flexibility with economic security and foster social justice without stymieing competition. Modern social democracy offers the best of both worlds.

Still, the notion that the United States is likely to further increase the size and scope of its welfare state might seem blind to the reality of contemporary American politics. But step back and consider the long run. The lesson of the past hundred years is that as the United States grows wealthier, Americans become more willing to spend more to insure against risk and enhance fairness. Advances in social policy come only intermittently, but they do come. And when they come, they usually last.

That trend is likely to continue. U.S. policymakers will recognize the benefits of a larger government role in pursuing economic security, equal opportunity, and rising living standards and will attempt to move the country in that direction. Often, they will fail. But sometimes, they will succeed. Progress will be incremental, coming in fits and starts, as it has in the past. New programs and expansions of existing ones will tend to persist, because programs that work well become popular and because the U.S. policymaking process makes it difficult for opponents of social programs to remove them. Small steps and the occasional big leap, coupled with limited backsliding, will have the cumulative effect of significantly increasing the breadth and generosity of government social programs.

This is not a prediction about the timing or conditions under which specific policy advances will occur. It’s a hypothesis about a probabilistic process. Over the long run, new programs will occasionally be created and existing ones will occasionally be expanded, and these additions and expansions are unlikely to be reversed."
It's radical, but it is also pragmatic, and it is a much needed evolution.

Also check out Kenworthy's three Youtube lectures on the same theme:

America's Big Government Future: A lecture by Dr. Lane Kenworthy, Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Arizona, December 15, 2011. Presented by the Democrats of the Red Rocks, Sedona, AZ

Friday, December 13, 2013

Execution in North Korea: Remember Lin Biao, and the Gang of Four

Kim Jong-un had his uncle shot by a firing squad using a machine gun. It is bizarre, but probably something Machiavelli would have recommended as quartering doesn't seem to be an option in North Korea. The strange (it actually makes Game of Thrones seem normal) but interesting thing about the way Jang Song-thaek was ousted is that it was made public, and that publicity will undermine the legitimacy not only of young Kim's rule, but of the entire system, not unlike how the official revelations about the fall of Mao's designated successor Lin Biao, and then the "Gang of Four's" palace intrigues broke the spell of infallibility surrounding the Communist Party leadership. New York Times reports:

“Although high-ranking leaders, including members of the Kim family, have been deposed before, we haven’t seen anything this public or dramatic since Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim Il-sung purged his last major rivals in the late 1950s,” said Prof. Charles K. Armstrong, a North Korea expert at Columbia University in New York and the author of “Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950–1992.”
Some of the analysts quoted in the New York Times piece see this as an end of their dreams of economic reforms. I rather think this is the beginning. Either Kim Jong-un will introduce reforms as a way to buy back some of the legitimacy he has squandered, or he will be the next guy executed, and then the new leaders will have to push reforms to mark a break with the miserable tyranny.

Execution Raises Doubts About Kim’s Grip on North Korea (December 13, 2013)

North Korea Releases List of Accusations Against Purged Official (December 8, 2013)

North Korea’s Leader Is Said to Oust Uncle in Power Play (December 3, 2013)

CNN on the execution of Kim's uncle